RogerBW's Blog

The Apocalypse Codex, Charles Stross 04 April 2016

2012 modern occult secret service, fourth in the Laundry Files series. Bob has been promoted to management, and has to supervise a couple of freelance agents. Seems an American televangelist is getting too much into favour with the Prime Minister…

This is the book in the series that really started to annoy me, because it's the one that's a tribute to Peter O'Donnell and the Modesty Blaise series, and while I've enjoyed Charlie's work a great deal he's no Peter O'Donnell.

The book is split into multiple first- and third-person narratives, which makes sense given that Bob isn't directly involved in all the events but rather is trying to supervise them. It does have a distancing effect, though: everyone else seems to be having much more of a good time saving the world than Bob is. (The actual resolution of events is covered by a quick and chaotic description, then by a formal incident report, which also reduces the reader's sense of involvement.)

More troubling is the feeling of repetition: the basic framework of a slow start, then Bob being sent out on a mission which goes horribly wrong, is becoming threadbare. The trivia of daily life don't give us an insight into Bob's character, they just add word count. We don't even get the general boost in characterisation that The Fuller Memorandum offered; Persephone Hazard, the Modesty Blaise analogue, offers some interest, but she's obviously derivative from the original, and still manages to be rather more three-dimensional than any of the series regulars.

The writing style is still full of jokey witticisms and catch-phrases, but by this point Charlie had been out of the actual techie community for some years. The earlier Laundry books were written from his own experience of bureaucracy and computers, but that was a long time ago, things have moved on, and he no longer works in the field. Nor is he getting good advice from people who do.

I don't have a problem with televangelists as the enemy, but the deck is stacked: there are no good Christians in this book. All the religious people are frothing loonies. Yes, I know Charlie dislikes religion – so do I – but this is not the way to persuade people of your argument.

There are plenty of things here that ought to work, but just don't quite, at least for me. (Many other people loved it.) I'd rather read Modesty Blaise again.

Followed by The Rhesus Chart.

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  1. Posted by Owen Smith at 02:02pm on 04 April 2016

    It's possible Charlie is getting good advice from people that work in the industry but he is ignoring it, as he did your proof reading.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 02:11pm on 04 April 2016

    Many people thought this book (and the later ones that I've already reviewed in tones of increasing disgust) were wonderful. That you and I don't like them doesn't mean they should have been written differently.

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